Page 49 - Vol. VI #10
P. 49

 It’s pretty much the same thing all over again and doesn’t bear repeating. The editor who wanted me
to follow her to Simon & Schuster with my next book ends up turning it down. A full dozen rejections later my work finds a home, but again my new editor leaves the publisher before its released. Her replace- ment, like the other replacements, also “loves my book to death,” but rarely returns my calls. Around that same time my writer friend comes out with a new book, too, but neither of us are sent on nation- wide tours. Neither of us appear on any of the morn- ing talk shows, and as far as radio interviews go, there are none of those, either. Of course the vener- able New York Times Book Review fails to recognize my latest stunning literary achievement, as it does my friend’s, and after receiving a handful of tepid reviews in small, middle-American newspapers trying to fill up their pages, our novels fade into obscurity. My agent has other books to sell and no time for friendly chit-chat. My replacement editor has moved on to the next season’s batch of new titles. The hardest part of publishing a book is the silence that follows several months after its release. That’s when you know that your work is dead.
hell and back to appreciate what life I have left when I return, sober, at the age of forty-six.
Book Three
So we both slide back into default mode and whine and complain and continue to drink. And therein lies another, more important story that starts well before we ever put pencil to paper. From the very beginning, we are enamored by the works and lives of the writ- ers we most admire. Hemingway. Raymond Carver. Dorothy Parker. Poe. James Baldwin. Dostoevsky. Eu- gene O’Neill. They were all hardcore alcoholics, and my friend and I are from the generation that studied them in college, poring over their works in awe and amazement. Somehow we equate emotional pain with creativity. We believe in the myth of the tortured writer, and since tortured writers drink to ease the sorrows and sufferings that plague them, we drink too. In our twisted little minds, we see ourselves as heirs to the next era of Tragic American Literary Heroes. Alcoholism, it seems, is a small price to pay for greatness.
Before passing, he made me executor of his literary estate, but he is not famous and there is little I can do with his unfinished manuscripts. They are the scribblings of a madman, disjointed and incoherent, and I box them up, along with several copies each of his published novels, and donate them to the library of the University of California at Irvine. This is the institution where we first met. This is the institution where we both received our M.F.A. degrees in Fiction Writing. The library is generous, crediting the dona- tion at a number exceeding the combined advances on all of his books. At least, in the end, his mother receives a few hundred back on his tax return, which she puts toward the cost his cremation.
If art is rooted in sickness, then sick is what we want to be, and sick is what we get. After my third novel,
I find myself drinking more than writing, and when narcotics enter the picture, I give up writing altogether. Maybe I squeeze in a few hours here and there when I’m coked up or speeding, but none of it’s any good, and truth-be-told my world quickly gets smaller and smaller until it soon orbits exclusively around my
“CAA,” he says, a flowery lilt to his voice. “How can I help you?”
next drink or fix. I will be nine years between books and maybe this is a good thing. Maybe I need to go to
“Is Liza there?”
“May I ask who’s calling?” “Jim,” I say. “Jim Brown.”
My writing buddy isn’t so fortunate.
He is ten years older than me, and though he writes and sells his fourth novel while I’m busy scratching and clawing my way out of the dank, stinking hole of addiction that I dug myself into, he suddenly ups and dies. Like Kerouac, another writer we both admired, my friend has had to move into his mother’s house. He is, at this point, unable to hold down a job that pays the bills, and like Kerouac, he develops cirrhosis of the liver and dies of an abdominal hemorrhage shortly after consuming a bottle of cheap port.
My next book is rejected by my agent. Or rather her assistant. This is a few years before the big publishers in New York lose their stranglehold on the industry. The internet has burst onto the scene and book sales are dwindling. Chain stores like Walden Books, Bor- ders, Dalton’s and Crown struggle to keep their doors open. Barnes and Noble will soon be on life-support while Amazon stock soars. I assume my agent is also feeling the pinch. Given that my previous books sold poorly, combined with my agent not having heard from me in nine years, is it any surprise that she doesn’t immediately remember me? I call and get her latest assistant. She’s gone through so many since I’ve known her that I don’t even bother to keep count.
Book Four
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